Vanya, Sonia, and Masha Hardwick, Christopher Durang’s hilariously squabbling siblings, are back (along with Masha’s sexy boy toy Spike), and hallelujah for that, as Santa Monica’s Edgemar Center For The Arts gives the 2013 Best Play Tony Award winner Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike a 99-seat staging well worth its back-for-2017 extension.

Despite a title evocative of at least two Chekhovian classics, even those who don’t know their Cherry Orchard from Cherries Jubilee will find themselves taken by 57-year-old gay fuddyduddy Vanya (Bjørn Johnson), his frumpy adopted 52-year-old sister Sonia (Michelle Danner), and the twosome’s “ageless” movie star sis Masha (Christine Dunford), whose box office grosses have kept the long-bickering older siblings comfortably ensconced in an aging Bucks County country house kept spic-and-span by sassy soothsaying cleaning lady Cassandra (Tamika Katon-Donegal).

Then comes the day the glamorous, globetrotting, five-times married Masha shows up unannounced, 20something actor/boy-toy Spike (Nate Golon) in tow and a piece of bad news in store for her unwitting siblings.

With a lover at least twenty years her junior (who’s more than willing to strip down to his skintight boxer briefs at a moment’s notice, the better to show off biceps, pecs, and suntanned six-pack), it’s no wonder that Masha isn’t all that thrilled when spunky young Spike introduces her to fresh-faced next-door neighbor Nina (Remy Nozik), a would-be actress who’s more than thrilled to be heading off with the titular foursome to a Disney-themed costume party, even if it means dressing as Dopey to her favorite actress’s Snow White.

Playwright Durang may have eschewed his Beyond Therapy/Baby With the Bathwater théâtre de l’absurd roots for more “traditional” fare in his biggest Broadway hit to date, but fans can rest assured. Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike is one of the funniest, most satisfying comedies you’re likely to see all year, and filled with characters who are alternately quirky and charming and irritating and hilarious and yet somehow utterly real.

Under the late Barbara Tarbuck’s effervescent direction, the Hardwick siblings are in particularly expert hands beginning with the oh-so glamorous Masha, Dunford’s pitch-perfect mélange of Christine Baranski, Barbra Streisand, and Susan Anton adding up to her very own divine, delectably self-absorbed creation.

Danner’s deliciously zany Sonia is a dorky delight, and never more so than when dowdy duckling becomes shimmering sequined swan, transformed into Snow White’s Evil Queen as played by Maggie Smith circa California Suite.

2017 cast addition Johnson adds his own distinctive shadings to the grumpy, fussy, sexually-repressed Vanya’s prickly charms, and when he launches into the character’s show-stopping rant against changing times, expect fireworks.

That decades-long friends Johnson, Danner, and Dunford look more like siblings than any Vanya and Sonia and Masha I’ve seen is icing on the cake.

 The terrific Golon’s golden blond, not-quite-dumb Spike could easily have stepped out of a 1960s beach party movie, Nozik’s ethereal Nina is incandescent perfection, and Katon-Donegal’s mischief-making Cassandra adds Jamaican spice to the mix.

Production designer Alessandra Manias takes advantage of the Edgemar Center’s roomy playing area to give the Hardwicks the spacious country home Durang’s play deserves, and Kyle McAnally lights it with a vibrant glow. Larae Mychel’s character-revealing costumes are highlighted by some Disneyesque Snow White gems. DJ Medina contributes an effective sound design mix of music and effects.

Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike is produced by Alexandra Guarnieri. Rob Riley and Josephine Hies are associate producers.

Carly Llewelyn-Ryan is production stage manager. Anna Zak is director’s assistant and Gianluca Zago is production design assistant.

At four productions and counting, Christopher Durang’s Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike is one of my very favorite plays of the past ten years, but one I wouldn’t want to revisit unless done just right. I’m happy to report that the Edgemar Center For The Arts does Durang just right.

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Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main Street, Santa Monica.

–Steven Stanley
January 29, 2017
Photos: Teferi Seifu

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